Unmasking Mental Illness and Promoting Mental Health Care Equality
The 2007 celebration gala for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) was held last night in Washington, DC. "Unmasking Mental Illness" has been the name/theme for this newly annual event (the first was held in 2005) and attendance and enthusiasm continues to rise with each passing year. Gathering with others to celebrate the achievements, triumphs and research opportunities to advance understanding of mental illness and remove its stigma is a fantastic example of the progress being made to declare the severity of mental illness and increase accessibility to treatment.
"Unmasking Mental Illness" is the perfect name for this event, hitting the mark on the work being done by NAMI through various programs and partnerships to change the way mental illness is viewed in America.
Two individuals were acknowledged for their personal dedication in advancing awareness and understanding of mental illness. Special note was first given for advancement in the media to Pete Earley for his book Crazy regarding his son's bipolar disorder, the insurance and hospitalization snarls and the pervasiveness of mental illness in prison populations. Pete Earley then introduced the Mind of America Research Award recipient, A. John Rush, M.D., respected educator, clinician and researcher focusing on the development and testing of mood disorder therapies. Dr. Rush's studies on treatments for depression have advanced the complexity and superiority of psychiatric research, resulting in bettering treatment options for illness management. Dr. Rush has authored 470 papers and chapters as well as 10 books. I not only wanted to clap, but stand up on my chair and cheer!
The opportunity to be in a room of over 325 people sharing the same ideology about mental illness is tremendous to experience. There is no reason to shy away from talking about mental illness openly with a person you just met sitting next to you. There is no judgment and no rolling of the eyes. Rather, there is safety and surety that mental illness is taken seriously.
I began to notice that each speaker extended their esteem and compassion for those who struggle daily to triumph through and manage their mental illnesses. Hearing the words resonating throughout the auditorium that mental illness is a severe illness and see all the heads nodding in agreement was just remarkable. It had the effect of soothing the frustrations I encounter with this type of illness. I again experienced the relief of knowing we are not alone: the relief that advocacy is being done, research is being done, those with mental illness are prevailing and thriving, and that mental illness will not be shut away behind a door so no one has to look at it.
Another highlight of the evening was the announcement that the Senate recently passed The Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 (legislation requiring insurance companies to provide equal treatment for mental illnesses as they do for all other illnesses). This was followed by great applause for the long-awaited breakthrough. The Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 awaits passage in the House before going to President Bush for signing such parity into law. (NAMI's advocacy and research has played a significant role for the expansion, awareness, and promotion of this bill.)
NAMI's partnership with political leaders has continued to grow over the last 27 years. "Unmasking Mental Illness" was co-chaired by two current policy makers: Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), nationally known health care advocate supporting, sponsoring and co-sponsoring healthcare related legislation (before and after her six years serving on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions); and, Representative Pete Stark (D-CA, 13th), Senior Member of the Ways and Means Committee, and the current Chairman of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee (Stark was the Subcommittee's Chairman from 1984-1994 and the Ranking Minority Member from 1994-2006).
Both Collins and Stark support the passage of The Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 and they are not alone on the Hill. Numerous other Senators and House Representatives are listed under the Benefit Committee for the celebration gala as well, denoting their support of NAMI's work and their dedication to mental health care issues.
NAMI's website (http://www.nami.org/) has terrific information on this parity bill, and I encourage each of us to send a letter to our respective representatives for the passing of this bill.
All proceeds from the "Unmasking Mental Illness" celebration gala will go to NAMI programs, and this includes NAMI's National Veterans Council whose advocacy and volunteer numbers continue to swell due to the influx of care necessary for mental health concerns for returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq as well as previous wars. The suicide rates continue to climb for veterans from the Vietnam War, and NAMI is working with the Veterans Administration to fill the need for quality mental health care and treatment for all veterans.